Forsyth Co. hospital chosen as Ebola treatment center for Novant Health patients


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Novant Health's Forsyth Medical Center has been chosen as an Ebola treatment center - one of two in the Novant Health system in North Carolina.

That means if someone were to be diagnosed with the virus at one of Novant Health's other health care centers, they could end up in Winston-Salem.

"We have the resources, we have the capacity and we have the intellectual capital," said Larry Nycum, MD, vice president of medical staff services for the medical center.

In late July of this year, the Novant Health system began to devise a plan for how to deal with the deadly virus. This plan was based off of guidelines from the state and CDC, which are constantly changing as new information about the virus comes out.

"We start at the front of the house, if you will, with questions," said Nycum.

Those questions begin with whether or not the patient has traveled out of the country, and specifically, to Africa.

"It's their travel history, in addition to signs and symptoms. And they, they're not separate, [they have to] be together," said Rick Lee, MSN, NE-BC, senior director of nursing at Forsyth Medical Center.

If a patient does show signs of the virus, they would immediately be taken through a separate entrance into an isolation unit on the first floor.

"That area would be completely quarantined off from the rest of the hospital," said Nycum.

After initial treatment on the first floor, the patient would be taken upstairs into an isolation unit inside the intensive care unit. That isolation unit was being finished on Tuesday and will house 10 beds.

"We've put a lot of effort into the action plan to get that patient to the intensive care unit as quickly as possible in a secured route," said Lee.

The unit would consist of negative pressure rooms, allowing them to retain and control airflow, as well as an area where caregivers could get external and internal access. This is also where staff would put on and take off their protective gear.

Removing their protective gear is one of the most dangerous times for the staff, for they could be exposed to the virus if they do not do so properly.

"We also have like a buddy system, a person monitoring that to make sure we're following the correct procedure," said Lee.

If the staff does confirm a patient has the virus, they immediately notify the proper entities.

"We would let the public health department know, we'd let the state of North Carolina know, and then we would cascade upwards to the CDC," said Nycum.

The professionals at Forsyth Medical Center say when the news broke that Ebola had come to the United States, they weren't scared, they simply realized it was something new and they had to deal with it accordingly.

"The risk to the general population in Forsyth County is exceptionally low and we will adapt to that when we see it," said Nycum. "If you use appropriate precautions you're going to be safe."

Should there be an outbreak where more than 10 people required treatment, Nycum says the hospital would simply have to adapt; and health care providers throughout the county, though they may be competitors, would work together.

"At the end of the day the health care resources in Forsyth County would partner to make sure that the citizens of Forsyth County and the surrounding counties are taken care of. End of story," said Nycum.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center officials say their isolation unit currently holds eight beds.

State health officials could not give FOX8 a definitive answer as to how many Ebola treatment centers there are in the state. Their response is as follows:

"Hospitals are working with their partners to establish referral patterns, should the need arise. NC DHHS is also emphasizing that all hospitals need to be prepared with training, equipment and facilities in order to triage and evaluate patients in the Emergency Department at minimum.

"Extensive guidance has been provided by the CDC and the NC DPH to health departments, health care providers, hospitals and laboratories on evaluation of patients with recent international travel and on management of suspected cases. North Carolina has a strong public health infrastructure with many trained professionals who are expert in how to work in public health emergency situations."

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